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U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, middle, refers to the closed memorials and museums on the National Mall as he and Representative Cathy McMorris Rogers lead House Republicans in a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Oct. 2, 2013. (JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)
U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, middle, refers to the closed memorials and museums on the National Mall as he and Representative Cathy McMorris Rogers lead House Republicans in a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Oct. 2, 2013. (JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)

Globe editorial

The rampage of the congressional elephants Add to ...

The Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are trying to extort the executive branch of government and the Democrats in both houses of Congress into repealing President Barack Obama’s health-care legislation, the Affordable Care Act – with possible damage to the world economy.

In Canada, both Liberal and Conservative governments have been known to stretch a point in their use of budget implementation bills to amend existing legislation, but the Republicans are holding the U.S. government up to ransom to entirely reverse a major program previously enacted by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

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If the Republicans win a future election in which they obtain majorities in both houses of Congress, and in which a Republican becomes president – and does not wish to veto laws passed by his or her allies in Congress, then the repeal of “Obamacare” would be a legitimate measure, although not desirable. Of course, no health-care system is perfect.

Instead of working toward electoral success in 2016 – or even in 2014, if the Republicans were to win veto-proof majorities in the legislative branch of government – the House Republicans are attempting to seize control of the constitutional order and divert it, ahead of any new electoral mandate.

The people of the United States appear to understand this. The polls suggest that a majority of Americans are not comfortable with Mr. Obama’s specific health-care program, but they do not approve of the hijacking of the budget process, or the shutting down of parts of the American government as a result, perhaps for a period of several weeks.

By no means all Republicans in Congress are Tea Partiers, but the shrillest voices are prevailing at present. Speaker John Boehner has not summoned the will to assert his leadership of the House Republican caucus. It is true that the American political system could never allow Canadian-style party discipline, but the Speaker of the House in the U.S. has considerable power that should sometimes be firmly exercised.

The present confrontation, if persisted in for a few more weeks, will invite serious damage not only to the U.S. but also to the international economic order, which of course includes Canada.

The current suspension of some government services is in some cases gravely inconvenient, but if the legal limit of the American government debt is reached without a raising of the “ceiling,” the international economy will enter uncharted waters. The U.S. dollar, even with all its ups and downs, is still the world’s only real reserve currency.

For a while, it was hoped that the euro would develop into a good enough reserve currency to produce a more balanced system, but the euro zone crisis of the past few years has of course crushed that notion at least for the near future.

A likely lowered debt rating from Fitch and Moody’s may be bad enough; an actual default would disturb many certainties, perhaps most spectacularly the assumptions made by China in its accumulation of U.S. government paper to underpin its export strategy and its currency level.

This is not to say that the world’s economic powers should do all it can do to preserve undervalued currencies that cause imbalances; it is just one salient example of prevailing expectations that would be upset. Likewise, a collapse of the American dollar might well result in a harmfully overvalued Canadian dollar.

The Republican Party has often achieved great things for the United States and the world. It should now stop to think about what it may be doing, and step back from such a destructive course.

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